COMMENTS: Sequel to Revenge of the Snake
DISCLAIMER: Not mine. They belong to Fireworks and assorted bigwigs with far more lawyers than I have. No money's been made and no harm's been done (although my Helm muse really WOULD like to get hold of the person who put the h/c idea into my head in the first place.)
COMMENTS 2: This is part one of the full Revenge of the Snake sequel. (The second part, Think Like a Fox, is being written and will get posted shortly.) It follows on just about directly from RotS, so if you've not read that, then go back and read it, otherwise much of this will be meaningless.
COMMENTS 3: Many, many thanks to Paula, Anthea and Sonia for the beta'ing and generally chivvying comments (I know eight months is a long time!). Also many thanks to everyone who nabbed me at HLDU in April demanding this story - believe it or not, this is the result of my plotting sessions in Australia, real life and writer's block got in the way.
SPOILERS: No real spoilers for anything canon
FEEDBACK: Yes please! Rachel.Trench@blueyonder.co.uk
TO SNARE A FOX
Montoya watched from his balcony as his soldiers moved in to complete the trap and smiled. For once, a piece of pueblo law and order was going to plan. He refused to think about why it didn't normally, not wishing to tempt fate.
"Senor Rains, you are under arrest." Martinez's voice floated up to Montoya, although he could no longer see what was going on.
Montoya smiled as he heard Rains' outraged reply, "What for?" Martinez didn't reply. "I demand to know what I've been arrested for! I demand to see your superior!"
Montoya shook his head and slowly descended from the balcony. "Senor Rains, I presume?"
Rains tried to spin round to see where the new voice was coming from, but the soldiers holding him prevented it. "Who are you?"
"I am their...commander," Montoya replied, "and Governor of this pueblo, Colonel Montoya."
"I demand to know why I've been arrested!"
Montoya smiled, even though he knew Rains couldn't see it. "Senor Rains, your reputation precedes you - you are one of the most wanted men on this coast. Monterrey has sent out orders to every governor that you are to be apprehended on sight." Montoya was delighted to see the anger suddenly bleed from Rains' form as his shoulders slumped in defeat.
"So I'm to be shipped to Monterrey."
Montoya's smile widened - an expression that would have terrified Rains had he been able to see it. As it was, the soldiers who could see it all shuddered to a man, thanking their stars and God that the expression wasn't aimed at them. "Sadly for you, no. Monterrey has directed that, should any of the governors capture you, we were to hang you within the week. Take him to the gaol."
The soldiers dragged the vehemently protesting Rains away towards the gaol, while Montoya turned to go back up to his office to write the order for Rains' hanging. Of course, Senor Rains could probably write this himself, Montoya reflected. The man is a forger of the first degree!
Glancing round, Montoya saw Grisham heading across the square and suddenly Montoya's previous good mood evaporated as the events of the previous evening resurfaced.
"In my office!" Montoya hissed, nearly dragging the hapless Grisham up the steps to the office. Offered little choice, Grisham headed into the office.
Montoya paced his office. Every line of every motion suggested a deep-rooted anger. Grisham looked on, bored.
"How could this happen?" Montoya finally spat. "They swore he was dead!"
"Well gee," Grisham retorted. "We are talking about the word of liars, thieves and murderers - they'd lie about anything if they thought it would have saved their necks...which it wouldn't have done."
Suddenly Grisham found himself roughly grabbed by the lapels as the normally so restrained Colonel's temper finally snapped. "And what of your claims that he was dead?"
"I never said he was dead," Grisham answered, wrestling free of Montoya's grasp. "I just said I couldn't find him - which probably meant he was dead. The man's a doctor - he probably knows all sorts of tricks."
"No." Montoya returned to his pacing. "No. Someone helped him. They had to have done."
Grisham raised a laconic eyebrow. "Yeah?" he drawled.
"Because, mi Capitan," Montoya retorted, "the wound was to the shoulder. There is no way even a doctor could treat his own shoulder wound."
Grisham said nothing. He knew, probably better than Montoya, what a man could find he could do when required, and treating your own shoulder wound was not the most unlikely of them.
"The question remains," Montoya continued, "who would help the Doctor?"
That answer was obvious. "The Queen of Swords."
For the second time, Grisham found himself grabbed by the lapels as Montoya started to shake him. "Of course by the Queen of Swords - do you think your commander to be such an idiot that he does not know this?" Suddenly, Montoya was across the office. "The question is, Grisham, who is the Queen of Swords?"
Grisham stared at the Colonel. "Excuse me?"
Montoya rounded on Grisham. "He has feelings for her. I would almost go so far as to say that he is in love with her...a revolting thought though that is."
"I know that - I don't see..."
"No, Grisham, you wouldn't," Montoya snorted. "Who is the woman who was most affected by the good doctor's disappearance?"
Grisham thought about it for a few seconds. "Probably Senora Hidalgo."
"Well it is not her. There is..." Montoya stopped, frowning. "Santa Helena was not graced by the presence of Senorita Alvarado during the good doctor's absence," he said thoughtfully.
"So? She was ill." Grisham shrugged.
"So she says," Montoya muttered. "I think, perhaps, we might have a little word with the Senorita, and the doctor."
Dr Helm slowly moved around his office, setting it to rights. No one (with the very probable exception of the Queen of Swords) had been in the place since the bandits formerly employed by El Serpente had attempted to abduct him three ago. On the upside, it meant that the office was relatively orderly and tidy. On the downside, the dust was beginning to settle and would all need to be cleaned off before he could think about treating patients. And just to compound his problems, his shoulder was beginning to throb.
At that moment, the door slammed open. Without turning round he muttered, "Is the art of knocking completely out of fashion?"
"Dr Helm - pleasure to see you in one piece," replied the visitor.
Helm allowed a grimace as he recognised the voice, then slowly turned to face his visitor.
"Oh, but you're not in once piece," Grisham added, a touch of smugness in his voice. "I forgot."
"Captain Grisham," Helm answered. "To what do I do the honour?"
"Well," Grisham responded, casually leaning against the table, "I'm looking for a little bit of information."
"I see." Helm sighed. "And I suppose asking you to come back tomorrow..."
"Information, now," Grisham added, almost as if Helm hadn't spoken at all.
"Well?" Helm snapped, thoroughly not in the mood to deal with Grisham.
"I'm curious," Grisham explained. "Man gets shot in the shoulder, in desert country...and miraculously survives to attend a party three days later. I'm impressed. How did you do it? What secrets do you have?"
"Good fortune and medical training," Helm answered.
Helm turned back to the medicine cabinet to avoid giving Grisham any extra information. "That is about the strength of it."
"Doctor, you're lying." Grisham was matter of fact. "You know it, and I know it."
"I didn't have any help."
Grisham's hand came down on Helm's injured shoulder, sending a blast of pain straight through the abused joint, and pulled, spinning Helm back to facing Grisham. For a second, Helm thought he was going to pass out, so intense was the pain. Grisham leered.
"Sure you didn't. This," and he cruelly pulled at the sling sending more pain through Helm's shoulder, "didn't tie itself. And it's not something you could have tied yourself. So who helped you?"
"No-one helped me." Helm backed up the words with a glare that had once reduced the men under his command to utter silence and was rewarded by seeing Grisham flinch, briefly.
Then the captain reasserted himself. "I can do this the easy way or the hard way, Doc," he drawled. "Either you tell me who helped you or..."
"Captain, are you threatening me?"
Grisham flicked his eyes over Helm. "What if I am?"
"If you are," Helm answered softly and suddenly starting to sound dangerous, "I'm not impressed."
"Too bad. Either you tell me what I want to know or I will get the information from you. One way or another."
Montoya rode up to the Alvarado hacienda, plotting just exactly what he was going to say. This would have to be done with finesse and carefully chosen words - he could give her no verbal ammunition, particularly if his suspicions were well founded.
"Good morning, Colonel."
The hail drew him from his contemplation. Standing on the veranda, overlooking the road, was the object of his quest this morning, Maria Teresa Alvarado.
"Ah, Senorita Alvarado, such a pleasure to see you are well," Montoya answered. "I trust that you are recovered?"
"I am feeling much better, thank you colonel," Tessa answered, smiling prettily. "Thank you for asking."
Montoya smiled back, and dismounted. "If I may be so bold as to ask what was wrong?"
"You know, Colonel, I am not sure of that myself. One moment I was fine, and then the next, I was overcome by dizziness and felt faint. It was horrible."
Montoya analysed the reply. Too glib by half, he decided. Aloud, he merely replied, "That does indeed sound most distressing."
"Still, I am over it now - aided, no doubt, by your lovely party," Tessa added, smiling again.
"So, what brings a busy man such as yourself to my humble hacienda, Colonel? I am sure it cannot simply be curiosity about my health!"
Montoya smiled briefly in response to the question. "The senorita is quite correct, much as I would love this to be a purely social visit, I do have a matter of business to attend to."
"There wasn't a problem with my last tax payment, was there?" Tessa asked, a look of worry crossing her face.
Montoya smiled more genuinely this time. "No, senorita, nothing of that nature. It is to do with the doctor."
"The doctor?" she repeated blankly.
"Would it be possible for us to discuss this indoors - what I have to ask is of a...private nature and I have little wish for this to become pueblo gossip."
"But of course, Colonel. By all means." Montoya smiled again. "Pedro, please see to Colonel Montoya's horse," she called to one of the rancheros at work in the stable yard. The man gave a quick nod, took the horse's reins from Montoya and led the horse through into the stables. Seeing that the horse would be properly cared for, Tessa turned back to Montoya. "This way, Colonel."
"I thank you, senorita."
Montoya allowed himself to be led into the house, and into the main parlour. He waited while Tessa fussed over being the proper host, fetching a glass of cool lemonade for him. Once she had settled, he waited a few moments more, enjoying the lemonade.
"So, Colonel?" Tessa prompted.
"Ah yes. You know, I believe, about the doctor's abduction from the pueblo earlier this week?"
Tessa nodded. "I heard about it. Such a terrible incident! Poor Dr Helm! It is a miracle he was able to escape his kidnappers."
"A miracle, indeed," Montoya agreed. "And one I thank God for - yet I believe it was an escape not entirely provided for by God."
"How so?" Tessa asked, frowning.
"I believe that someone came to the aid of the good doctor."
Montoya watched as Tessa thought about this for a few moments. "What makes you say that, Colonel?"
"He is a stranger to this land and he was quite badly injured at the hands of his captors - when Grisham caught them, they swore that they had shot him dead."
At this, Tessa gave a gasp. "That is terrible! I trust that these men have been punished?"
Montoya smiled faintly. "But of course, senorita. What kind of governor would I be if I allowed such acts of violence to go unpunished?" There was a pregnant pause, while Montoya waited to see what kind of response Tessa would make to that declaration. Wisely, she said nothing. "So you see," he concluded, "Dr Helm must have received some assistance."
Tessa nodded. "You are right - he must have done," she agreed. "But who could it have been?"
"It is a puzzle to me as well," Montoya replied, lying. "And one I am anxious to solve."
"I am not sure why you are speaking to me about this," Tessa said, sounding deeply confused. "Surely Dr Helm has the answer."
"Alas," Montoya answered, "the doctor was delirious for much of the time and remembers little about his escape and rescue."
"Poor Dr Helm."
"Indeed," Montoya agreed. "The reason I have come to you," he continued, "is that Grisham caught the kidnappers on the very edges of your hacienda's lands. I was wondering if you might have heard anything from your workers?"
Tessa gave a sigh and spread her hands wide in an apologetic gesture. "I wish that I could help you, Colonel. But I have not seen as much of my workers as I might otherwise have done, because of my illness."
How convenient, Montoya thought. Aloud, he replied, "Of course. But now that you are well again...?"
Tessa smiled. "If I should hear of anything I will mention it to you - doubtless your curiosity is because you wish to reward the individual?"
Montoya forced himself to smile. "Of course, senorita. Why else should I wish to know? To punish them?" He laughed and made note of the detail that although Tessa joined him in laughter, the expression of mirth came nowhere close to touching her eyes. She knew a great deal more about events than she was letting on.
"Well, Colonel, should I hear anything, I shall be sure to let you know about it."
Montoya smiled a crocodile's smile. "I'm sure you will."
Grisham strode across the pueblo square, heading for Dr Helm's office. I'm going to enjoy this!
Entering the building, he found it full of peons waiting for treatment. Guess a guy with one arm can't treat people all that fast. My heart bleeds... He waited until he was sure he had everyone's attention. Then announced, "All right, everyone out - surgery's over for the day."
There was a startled exclamation from the waiting peons and no-one moved.
Grisham shook his head. "Everyone out - or I'm arresting the lot of you."
That got people moving.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" exclaimed Helm, disturbed by the noise of thirty or forty people departing his waiting room.
Grisham smiled smugly. "Surgery's over, doc, and you an' I are going to have a nice little chat."
Helm stared. "What do you mean?"
"What I say, doc," Grisham drawled. "A nice little chat. About who helped you."
Grisham watched as Helm ground his teeth. "I already told you, there was no-one."
"Right, and I'm the patron saint of travellers. I know you're lying. Now who was it?"
Helm rolled his eyes. "There was no-one."
"I warned you yesterday, I will get this information from you, one way or the other. I guess it's going to have to be the other." Grisham smiled.
"And, as I believe I told you yesterday," Helm replied, "if this is supposed to be a threat, it isn't working."
"This'll hurt you a lot more than me." Quick as a flash, Grisham was across the room and had grabbed hold of the doctor by his injured arm. Helm grunted in pain. "Now, you got one more chance to tell me who helped you." Helm just glared venomously. Grisham's smile widened. "Doc, you've just made my day."
The soldiers in the garrison heard the screams of pain that echoed from Dr Helm's office. They exchanged looks with one another, but they had their orders. The only men who could countermand them were Montoya and Grisham - and neither of them was likely to be doing that any time soon.
Tessa paced her parlour.
Montoya knew. She didn't know how, but he knew. Knew who she was. Knew about her hand in Dr Helm's rescue. That could be the only possible reason for his careful fishing trip of this morning. Not that he had gained anything from it, Tessa had been extremely careful what she had said, but...
"What am I going to do?"
Montoya leaned back in his chair; hands pressed together, fingers lightly touching his lips, in a study of deep concentration.
Tessa had not incriminated herself this morning - not that he had expected her to, considering how long she had been playing the rest of the town for fools behind that lace mask. But she had still confirmed a few of his suspicions by her demeanour and the little flashes of nervousness and fear that were betrayed in her eyes.
Outside, he could hear the sounds of Grisham attempting to persuade the good doctor to tell the truth. They made Montoya smile. At the rate Grisham appeared to be going, there was not going to be enough left of Helm to gloat over. Which would be a pity, but it would remove a major thorn from his side.
The real question was how to control Maria Theresa Alvarado once her main supporter within the town was finally eliminated. Montoya's first reflex was to have her killed in much the same fashion and blame it on bandits or, in a fit of whimsy, the Queen of Swords. But that would not do. There would be a few who would be suspicious of her sudden attack - not many, but enough to raise questions that would surely make it to Monterrey. No, killing her was out of the question.
Montoya pursed his lips. There was a better way of gaining control of both Senorita Alvarado and her hacienda. Marriage. He had suggested it as a course of action for Grisham to follow when the Donna had first arrived from Madrid in the wake of her father's death, but perhaps...
Montoya smiled. Not perhaps. Definitely. All he would have to do was ensure that Don Alvarado's will finally came to light.
Suddenly all action, Montoya all but leapt from his seat and headed down to the gaol. Who knew when one's prisoners would suddenly become useful? Montoya looked at the ragged looking man in the cell. "Senor Rains, I have a proposition for you..."
To be Continued...